A quantity surveyor (QS) is a professional working within the construction industry concerned with building costs.
The profession is one that provides a qualification gained following formal education, specific training and experience that provides a general set of skills that are then applied to a diverse variety of problems. Predominantly these relate to costs and contracts on construction projects.
The profession developed during the 19th century from the earlier "measurer", a specialist tradesman (often a guild member), who prepared standardised schedules for a building project in which all of the construction materials, labour activities and the like were quantified, and against which competing builders could submit priced tenders. Because all tenders were based on the same schedule of information, they could be easily compared so as to identify the best one. As a profession quantity surveying emerged around the 1820s with one of the earliest QSs being Sir Henry Arthur Hunt who was involved in work on the Houses of Parliament. After the fire in 1834 that destroyed the old Palace of Westminister Henry Hunt came up with an estimate cost of £724,984 (changes by Parliament put it up to £1.5m).
The professional institution with which most English-speaking quantity surveyors are affiliated is the UK-based Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). In Australia, the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (AIQS) has over 4300 members, both domestically and overseas and the New Zealand Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NZIQS) a further 1300. Others are the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES). Those who are qualified members of the RICS are entitled to use the term "Chartered Quantity Surveyor" or simply "Chartered Surveyor".
The QS usually reports to Project Manager or Project Director and provides advice in the decision-making process throughout the management of a project from initial inception to final completion. The QS handles estimating and cost control, the tendering process and, after contract award, the commercial interface. QSs should be able to carry out estimating and measurement of construction works prior to tender, producing the bill of quantities; produce tender documentation and manage the tender process; clarify and evaluate tenders; and manage the resultant contract through monthly valuations, variations control, contract administration and assessment of claims.
Some QSs are trained in techniques of cost control. Those QSs who emphasise the cost discipline often use the term "Construction Cost Consultant". They ensure that projects are designed and constructed in such a manner as to secure value for money, cost certainty and programme dates.
Others emphasise contracts management. Trained to draft, interpret and administer complex contracts, those QSs who operate in the broader field of project management often adopt other titles such as "Contracts manager" or "Construction surveyor". A number of QSs work in procurement in the oil & gas industry, process and power industries, and civil engineering. Their preferred title, in countries where the QS profession is less known, is "Contracts engineer".
Some QSs specialise in project management and running multi-disciplinary projects, the QS background being a good foundation for understanding the complexities of modern large-scale projects.
As well as in professional quantity surveying practices, the QS finds employment in all parts of industry and government including primary and secondary industry, national and local government bodies and agencies, contractors and subcontractors, developers, and financial and legal companies.
Although all QSs will have followed a similar course of education and training (for those entering the profession today, this is usually to degree level), there are many areas of specialisation in which a QS may concentrate. The main distinction amongst QSs is between those who carry out work on behalf of a client organisation, often known as a "professional quantity surveyor", and those who work for construction companies, often known as a "main contractor's quantity surveyor".
The functions of a consultant quantity surveyor :
- Traditionally referred to as a Contractors Quantity Surveyor (QS), Professional Quantity Surveyor, Project Quantity Surveyor (PQS) Private Practice Quantity Surveyor they are broadly concerned with contracts, measurement and costs on construction projects. The methods employed, however, cover a range of activities which may include cost planning, value engineering, value management, feasibility studies, cost benefit analysis, life-cycle costing, risk analysis, tendering, valuation, change control, dispute resolution, claims management, project management, cost estimation and value for money assessments.
- The QS's traditional independent role on the team comprising client, architect, engineers and contractor has given him a reputation and appreciation for fairness. This, combined with his expertise in drafting and interpretation of contract documents, enables him to settle issues, value the works fairly and regularly, project final costs, avoid disputes and ensure the effective progress of a project.
- QS control construction costs by accurate measurement of the work required on a regular basis, the application of expert knowledge of costs and prices of work, labour, materials and plant required, an understanding of the implications of design decisions at an early stage to ensure that good value is obtained for the money to be expended.
- The technique of measuring quantities from drawings, sketches and specifications prepared by designers, principally architects and engineers, in order to prepare tender/contract documents, is known in the industry as taking off.The quantities of work taken off typically are used to prepare bills of quantities (BoQ), which usually are prepared in accordance with a published Standard Method of Measurement(SMM) as agreed to by the QS profession and representatives of the construction industry. This activity is usually completed before the commencement of work on site on a traditional (BoQ) project, the Contractor will then price this document in competitive tender and be paid according to a measure undertaken on site and applied to each specific work item.
- In Australia, the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (AIQS) is the peak body for the Quantity Surveying profession. All Members of the AIQS are assessed for membership against strict criteria, and must adhere to a Code of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct to ensure the highest standards of professional excellence. The AIQS website (www.aiqs.com.au) contains details of all members and is a useful source of information relating to the profession.
- The benchmark for quality for a Private Practice Surveyor is the RICS's Chartered Membership MRICS & FRICS. The RICS also has the entry level non Chartered Membership AssocRICS. AssocRICS acts as a qualification in its own right however also offers a progressive route to Chartered RICS membership for able and willing candidates.
- A number of surveyors who work with Contractors will not hold formal qualifications or RICS membership as in the past project based training was more widely undertaken and considered sufficient, this is slowly changing. Many of these surveyors will hold Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) membership instead.
- QS is prevalent in many industries (not just construction) as they are procurement and contract specialists with the ability to adapt techniques to suit the form of contract or work being undertaken.